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A bereaved mom asked ODOT why a safety project stopped short of deadly intersection. Here’s their response


ODOT will spend $18 million on Lombard, but the project stops just west of the dangerous Interstate Avenue intersection.

An Oregon Department of Transportation project currently under construction on North Lombard will pump $18 million into the street. The goal of the Lombard Multimodal Safety Project is to tame this state highway and freight route that happens to run through a bustling commercial and residential corridor. ODOT plans to add buffered bike lanes, safer crossings, signal upgrades, ADA curb ramps, and more.

For north Portland resident Michelle DuBarry, it doesn’t go far enough.

The 1.4 mile project stops about 0.4 miles from North Interstate Ave, a major intersection that features two busy bus stops, a Biketown station, a school, two gas stations, a shopping center, and two MAX light rail stations.

DuBarry knows Interstate and Lombard better than anyone. In 2010 a man hit and killed her 22-month-old son while he walked in a crosswalk with her husband. Since that tragedy, DuBarry has been an outspoken advocate for safer streets.

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When a woman was hit and seriously injured in a hit-and-run collision at the same intersection last week, local activists took to Twitter to call-out ODOT for spending $800 million on a freeway expansion project a few miles away instead of spending more to make this notoriously dangerous intersection safer. ODOT defended themselves by pointing them to the Lombard project.

That response struck a nerve for DuBarry.

“Hi ODOT,” she wrote in a tweet that spread quickly among her 9,600 followers. (Content warning: Graphic crash description ahead.) “Just curious why your safety project on Lombard stops short of the intersection where Ms. Chavez was struck. It’s the same spot my toddler son was struck and killed by a driver 10 years ago… When I go through the intersection, I think of my son’s stroller pinned to a telephone poll, my husband giving him CPR with blood running down his own forehead, the sirens in the background when he called me from the ambulance. Maybe you should think of those things, too.”

ODOT’s social media staff chose not to reply to DuBarry’s tweet, so I reached out to them via email.

ODOT Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton got back to me Thursday night. After first touting the benefits of the Lombard project, which he said will, “Improve safety and travel-time predictability,” Hamilton said they simply don’t have the budget to extend the project to Interstate.

“With limited funding and many high crash corridors in Region 1 (SE Powell, OR99E, 82nd, SW Barbur, TV Hwy to name a few), ODOT assesses where to make critical safety investments based on the number and severity of crashes in locations along these corridors. Regrettably, lack of funding and competing priorities are the reason ODOT set the project limits on this project between N. Fiske and N. Boston.”

ODOT works on a two-year budget that’s worth about $4 billion. The Highway Division garners the largest chunk at $2 billion and the second largest source of spending is debt service on bonds, which ODOT is spending $555 million on in the current biennium. The Lombard Multimodal Safety Project was funded through a mix of sources, primarily the All Roads Transportation Safety (ARTS) program. The Portland region gets about $10 million per year in ARTS funding.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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